Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday September 12, 2000
Ontarians have had it with classroom warfare; Education: Public won’t support disruptions
Ontario’s schools are once again in danger of becoming a labour relations battleground rather than a place for learning. The optimism that usually marks the start of the school year is missing, especially in public high schools, and there is concern for what lies ahead. Students and parents are worried about teachers working to rule; withdrawing extra-curricular activities, includi ng sports and after-school clubs; and taking other job actions, such as rotating walkouts and possibly even a strike in Toronto.
It is an understatement to say that Ontarians are tired of the continuing tension and uncertainty. What is most frustrating is the apparent inability of the Mike Harris government and Ontario’s teachers’ unions to discuss their differences, or at least agree to a truce until the next provincial election campaign is under way. It’s unrealistic to expect that relations between the Tories and the unions will be easily repaired in the wake of the government’s heavy-handed Bill 74, the Education Accountability Act, which among other things increases high school teachers’ course load and could mandate extra-curricular involvement. But it’s not asking too much of all parties to go the extra mile to start communicating with each other to avoid damaging, unnecessary disruption in schools.
Harris has an opportunity to take a more constructive direction by opting for a more moderate, less confrontational and more inclusive approach to education reform. Last week, the premier said that his government plans a more pragmatic, less ideological approach to governing — but he wasn’t specific. Education is an ideal place for Harris to show that he’s serious about adopting a Bill Davis, consensus-building style. He would send a good signal by slowing down to listen to what critics are saying. This government has assumed almost complete control of education from school boards, barging ahead on major reforms with relatively little concern for the views of teachers’ unions.
There is an equal onus on the union leaders to hold their noses and offer to dialogue with the Tories, starting with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation. The OSSTF acted responsibly by returning to school on schedule this month. However, the union drew a line in the sand by pledging to battle the demands of Bill 74 in negotiating unsigned teachers’ contracts. In Toronto, 7,000 public high school teachers have set Oct. 2 as a strike date if negotiations fail. The OSSTF is walking a fine line. Job actions that detract from the quality of a student’s overall educational experience are ultimately self-defeating.
The OSSTF and the other unions have every right to oppose the Tory agenda, take their issues to the public, and campaign for a new government in the next election. But the battle shouldn’t be fought on the backs of students. Both sides must preserve the integrity of the classroom and all of the after-school programs that are fundamental to a good education. (Source: Hamilton Spectator Editorial)